FOR years, 2K and Visual Concepts have carved out a niche as creators of the pre-eminent basketball game, capitalising on the ignominious demise of EA’s NBA Live series without ever appearing complacent.
NBA 2K14 - Xbox 360 (reviewed) / Playstation 3 / PC / iOS / Android
This year’s edition consolidates their legacy, setting new highs for a franchise defined by authenticity and sleek gameplay.
At first sight, the presentation of the title screens is a decidedly retro affair, calling to mind the style of early 1990s Capcom. That is no bad thing of course, and a welcome change from the bombardment of peripheral menus served up as the garnishing to most annualised sports titles. Delve further, though, and anyone fearful that NBA 2K14 has strayed into arcade territory will be reassured. More than ever before, Visual Concepts have done their homework in translating the rousing experience of being courtside.
True to its subject matter, the action is dynamic, reflecting the way a driving attack can be countered within moments. Deft animation captures the likenesses and individual techniques of well-known players as they jostle for position as momentum shifts from offence to defence. The balance between the two is well struck, meaning that turnovers are not ten a penny, but the end result of canny – or careless – use of a revised control system.
The latter, building on changes put in place in NBA 2K13, is a masterstroke on the part of Visual Concepts. With perseverance and practice, the slightest nudge or twist of the right analogue stick now allows players to execute an array of moves and shots. It is an unashamedly complicated feature, prone to punishing shortcomings with impunity, and those with apprehensions can rely on the buttons to do their bidding. This, however, is the coward’s way out - properly learned, the delicacy of the makeover makes for organic play. Nailing three points from afar often felt like a formality using X; doing so with a flick of the thumbstick is more gratifying by far. Changes to fundamentals such as shooting are always a risky affair, asking players to go to back to basics and familiarise themselves with new mechanics, but in the case of NBA 2K14, the improvements make for an experience with hidden subtleties.
The commentary also deserves lavish praise. With more than 50 hours of dialogue from Steve Kerr, Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg, the curse of oft-repeated, inappropriate phrases (hello, ISS64) is avoided. Instead, the analysis of games is expansive, giving players a richly detailed overview of tactics and strategies. For British players unfamiliar with every detail of the sport, this is an instructive feature, and keeping an ear on what is being said can inform your approach. Most importantly, the commentary adds tremendously to the atmosphere as it surges with the pace of games, with silences are few and far between.
The game modes on offer are distinctive and involving. The highlight is LeBron: Path to Greatness, which allows you to take control of the Miami Heat forward and, should you so wish, navigate his career down unexpected paths. It is an entertaining diversion for those who want more than seasons and career modes, and sees Visual Concepts build on the Jordan Challenge mode pioneered in NBA 2K11, even if the novelty of the RPG-style feature has worn off by now.
For newcomers, this latest iteration offers a finely tuned example of basketball gaming at its best. Existing converts should also strongly consider updating – NBA 2K14 combines the best aspects of an illustrious series, but also reveals a developer with the courage of its convictions to spurn cosmetic tinkering in favour of innovative enhancements to an already superb experience.